Books: If a better future beckons ...

Self-awareness tests, research and a slick interview technique are this manual's route to career fulfilment. John Vincent recommends it - with a little pinch of salt.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

In 1995, I was working at Procter & Gamble selling make-up to Boots.

That, it turned out, made me attractive to ladies. So I found myself dating a more beautiful girlfriend than I should have been and hanging out in her rented basement flat. I have a vivid memory of seeing a book on her shelf called What Colour is Your Parachute? My interest was piqued enough to have a flick. It was, it turned out, a posh careers guidance manual with lots of self-help and navel-gazing thrown in.

Anyway, as a result of my P&G closing sales techniques, that person subsequently became my wife. Eleven years on, her younger sister is staying with us, so there was a certain historical symmetry to seeing a 'stunningly updated' edition (that's confidence!) of What Colour is My Parachute? on her bookshelf.

The point is this: 'young people' (these days and in the olden days) spend a lot of time anxious about their future, their present and, somewhat unproductively, their past. They look at Ben, who is making a lot of money in the City. They look at Sally, who is an actress and has recently been asked to go to ... LA. They look at Clare, who is getting all those emotional rewards for making sick people better. And they get depressed.

They don't at that stage realise that Ben, Sally and Clare are equally depressed about the grass they see growing in the others' gardens.

And they just know that they need to make a better choice, and go faster.

The bonus point is this: that until now the bible of insecure over-achievers has been this Parachute book and it is a good book.

And so it was with amusement that I opened Jumpstart Your Career. It passed the first test. My wife's younger sister grabbed it and then her friend grabbed it from her. And so, here is the judgment of two perfect target readers and me.

The book covers a huge amount of ground. It takes the reader through the rollercoaster of understanding their working future and how to tackle the process of getting there. You start with a reflection of what makes you tick (although, slightly negatively, it asks you first to list 'all the things you don't want to put up with in your next job'). There are exercises telling you whether you're mainly extrovert, open, agreeable, stable or controlling; examples of careers; and case studies.

There is a drier section on trends in the workplace - a portfolio career, the increasing use of computers (!) - but once you have made up your mind, it helps you consider how to get the job, how to research the firms you might want to work for, how to get an interview, impress in the interview, and even how to make friends and influence people when you're there.

The book makes a big effort to be balanced, careful with its advice, and exhaustive. It isn't just aimed at graduates - it has advice for people in all walks of working life. It doesn't break any ground in intellectual insight but, unlike the Parachute book, doesn't pretend to.

There are, however, a few things I have to warn you about. The book is written by two people. That's not such a bad thing, of course. As long as you are happy for it to read that way - and happy for those two people to be someone that wants to be your best buddy, and separately, your geography teacher.

The best buddy says things like: 'Do you have days when you have to force yourself to get up and go to work - and by mid-morning you want to go home again?' And the geography teacher comes out with things like: 'Discontent at work can take many forms. Research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council found that job satisfaction in the UK is declining slightly.'

And neither the buddy nor the geography teacher really comes across as having an insider's view of the commercial world or finds it easy to have their own point of view.

All this has a certain irony, as it was my geography teacher who had the task of giving me the results of my Vocational Guidance Test. We had to respond to instructions such as 'write down as many things as you can that are round' and then a computer looked at the answers and told us we should be in HR.

So you need to take all these things with a little pinch of salt. And that brings me to a final thought. Having these books is a bit like having a personal trainer. They can help, but sometimes you have to stop outsourcing willpower, save the money, get out of bed and go running.

If you're looking at Ben with his Porsche and Clare with her stethoscope and anxious that you are not being all you can be, this is a good book.

And if you are the parent or friend of someone who is and you are going to get them that Parachute book, get this one as well.

Jumpstart Your Career - Essential steps to a brilliant future
Philippa Lamb & Nigel Cassidy
BBC Active
MT price £8.99

To order, visit


All the books reviewed are available from the MT bookshop. To order, call 08700 702 999 or visit

P&p at £1.95 will be added to each order.

John Vincent is co-founder of Leon, the chain of fresh fast food restaurants.

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